I couldn’t resist participating in today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is right on the heels of Valentine’s Day, as it discusses what we love and hate when it comes to romances in books.
I’ve read plenty of romance, and whether it’s the main story or just a side-plot, there are standards that must be met for me to consider it worthy of my reading time. It’s no surprise that Fifty Shades of Grey breaks pretty much all of these rules, considering just how crappy it is. Since the movie adaptation is about to hit theaters, why don’t we take a few more stabs at the series while we vent about what we despise in romances?
Haters, let’s start hating! Here are the top ten things I HATE when it comes to romances in books:
1. Sob story backgrounds to justify normal behavior. In Fifty Shades, Christian Grey’s mother was a drug-addicted prostitute who committed suicide, an excuse he uses for enjoying BDSM. Say it with me: Boo. Flipping. Hoo. While it’s a tiring trope to make a character orphaned or ‘troubled’ to make him more likable, it’s especially annoying when authors do it to justify typical human behavior. There’s nothing wrong at all with BDSM as long as it’s consensual, and Grey’s backstory just creates the false impression that his kinkiness is a sickness. Commitment-phobic because your parents are divorced? Distrusting because your ex cheated on you? Call the whambulance. You’re not a special snowflake; you’re normal. Now get over your sob story and become a better person!
2. Excluding the vast majority of society. Hey, romance novelists! Where are all the people of color? How about LGBT characters? Would it kill you to write about men shorter than 5’10”, or women who are larger than a size 6? Maybe I’m not reading the right books, but most of them seem to be about stereotypically attractive white people, and lord knows there’s enough of those in romance. How refreshing would it be to see more interracial or gay couples? Reading has been shown to increase empathy, so including more diversity in books will in turn better society’s tolerance. Get to it, writers! The world depends on you!
3. No secondary characters. Just because you’re writing romance doesn’t mean you’re excused from writing sidekicks. Your main characters had friends and family before they met, and those people didn’t disappear once they hooked up. Bella Swan sacrifices her mortality and her normal teenage life for vampire love; that doesn’t make her romantic, it makes her a stupid jerk. Don’t all Twilight fans realize that Bella gets the lovely opportunity of watching her parents and all her friends die? If your love interests “complete” each other, then congrats, you’re writing a crappy romance. How about making them complete on their own? Make love the frosting, not the whole damn cake.
4. Why so serious? We get it: your love interests have never had chemistry like this before. No one in the world has ever experienced passion at this epic level. Ho hum. Too many romances have been written about brooding, angsty men and the cold, uptight women that they turn into sensual vixens. Everyone should check out Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd series if they want excellent examples of how playfulness can be sexy. Let’s face it, falling in love can be painfully awkward, and if you can’t laugh at yourself, then I don’t care about your happily-ever-after.
5-10. Bad sex. Okay, I tried to make ten unique complaints, but I realized that most were on this particular subject, so I’m grouping them together. Let’s be honest, nobody reads Playboy for the articles, and nobody buys romance novels to read about two characters holding hands. #SorryNotSorry!
What makes sex bad in books? Let me count the ways:
5. Calling your lover by name way too frequently. I’m talking to you, Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele. If you have to reference your lover’s name that often, whether it’s inside or outside the bedroom, might I suggest name-tags?
6. Referring to your lover’s nether regions with obnoxious terms. I swear, if you use the phrase “velvet-covered steel,” I will stab you in the face. Same goes for rods, members, nubs, and love buttons. You don’t have to talk like a doctor, but don’t talk like a middle-schooler taking her first shot at fan-fiction either (*cough* E.L. James *cough*). If you wouldn’t use the term in real life, don’t write it down!
7. Gasping at your lover’s well-endowed package. Cue eye-rolling! There’s nothing wrong with admiring the male form, but if your sex scene begins with a gasp and a “But…will it fit?” then you need to go back to Creative Writing 101. Not all men are porn stars, and that’s totally fine. It’s about quality, not quantity. I could add something about boats and the ocean, but I’m pretty sure you get what I mean.
8. Expecting climactic results with little-to-no foreplay. This is my biggest pet peeve in all erotic media: it’s all reward and no work, creating generations of men who are horrible in bed. No man’s “member” is so magical that he can flat-out ignore his partner’s pleasure. If your male protagonist doesn’t make a stop downtown, you can bet I’m throwing your book out the window.
9. Having an inner goddess. Imaginary friends are for children, and there’s absolutely nothing sexy about that. Your inner monologue doesn’t need a spokesperson providing commentary. If you’re having a great time between the sheets, just say so! The inner goddess trope in Fifty Shades is so absurd that even Cosmopolitan magazine makes fun of it–a huge red flag that the book really does suck.
10. Not making it safe! Look, no one is saying that contraception is a turn-on. But you know what’s definitely NOT sexy? STDs. Even Mr. and Ms. Perfect are at risk, and since they most likely fell in lurrrrvvvveeee in only a matter of weeks, they better wrap it up after whipping it out. I also feel inclined to make a joke about life’s most common sexually transmitted disease–babies–but I’ll leave that to comedic genius Donald Glover:
Alright, on that note, I’ll see myself out! There you have it: the top ten things I hate the most when it comes to romances in books! I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day! You’ll find me at the movie theater, hate-watching Fifty Shades, of course. I’m taking one for the team, so you don’t have to! Don’t forget to come back to Book Club Babe this weekend for my review!